Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal

By Bernard Sternsher | Go to book overview
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27. Tugwell and the American Tradition: Evolution--Democracy--the Constitution

I

In 1933 in The Industrial Discipline Tugwell made this distinction: "The essential contrast between the liberal and the radical view of the tasks which lie before us is that liberalism requires this experimenting and that radicalism rejects it for immediate entry on the revolutionary tactic. Liberals would like to rebuild the station while the trains are running; radicals prefer to blow up the station and forego service until the new structure is bulk."1 A critic contended that Tugwell, in making this distinction, failed to put himself in either camp.2 This contention did not take into account other passages in The Industrial Discipline, and in other works, in which Tugwell definitely placed himself in the camp of the evolutionary liberals.

The two foundation stones of Tugwell's evolutionary position were his rejection of force and his elevation of reason. He accepted a rule from his teacher Simon Nelson Patten, who said to him during World War I, "Force, my boy, force never settles anything."3 In The Industrial Discipline Tugwell wrote, "I have never found myself greatly in sympathy with the revolutionary tactic. 'Force never settles anything' has always seemed to me a sufficient axiom. It is my reading of history that reconstruction is about as difficult after a revolutionary debacle as it would have been in a process of gradual substitution."4 In 1935 Tugwell stated that the Civil War "should have taught us . . . that force is, of itself, incapable of altering the basic habits and institutions of mankind and that unless they are assessed realistically no corrective policy can be formed. Changes of this sort come slowly in spite of heat or strife. They never yield to unreason or violent action. The use of force would have no better results today if it is really reconstruction we want rather than a bloody overturn and the replacement of one government by another."5

Preceding the title page of The Industrial Discipline appeared this quotation from Francis Amasa Walker: "Happy is that people, and proud may they be, who can enlarge their franchises and perfect their political forms without bloodshed or threat of violence, the long debate of reason resulting in the glad consent of all." The last sentence of the book read: "There is a kind of duty among civilized beings now not to desert reason but to press its claims insistently." During his career in the capital Tugwell reiterated this enshrinement of reason. In 1934 he re

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